I totally get that buying a dressform might not in your budget. It’s a major purchase, and it’s completely understandable that you can’t run right out and buy one right now. The next week is going to be devoted to walking you through the process of making a body double dressform with less than $30.
This method isn’t just for those of us who are saving up to buy a “real” dressform. It’s perfect for those whose size is changing rapidly. My daughter, at age 11, has recently decided that she’s actually going to grow at a rate normal to humans. We’re currently going through clothes so fast that they might as well be on fire. There’s no way in heck I would buy a dressform for her at this rate. Once she gets at a size that can be replicated by an adult dressform, I’ll revisit it, but for now, I’ll be making her a dressform. This could also be used for those who are pregnant and don’t have one of those cool pillows that maternity stores have in their changing rooms. (Note: once I figure out what those are called, we’ll have a tutorial on how to make one.)
Before we get started, I want to make a couple of disclaimers that will also explain where this whole idea came from. First off, the technique I’m showing is one I developed in my head then tried out on my daughter. That’s not to say no one else has ever had this idea, but I didn’t learn it from any of them. What we’re doing today is making a duct tape body double to help you make your pattern. I have seen several classes on making a duct tape dressform, the most recent at Phoenix Comicon. I ended up not going to that class because I couldn’t afford it, but it did get me thinking about how to make a dressform out of duct tape.
My second source of information here are the duct tape bodices we used to make in my Renaissance society. See, whenever someone new needed a bodice, we would put her (or him in certain cases) into a shirt she didn’t like any more and wrap her in duct tape so tight she could hardly breathe. This would then be turned into a pattern that worked remarkably well.
But, the duct tape bodice doesn’t work as a dressform because it “smooshes” everything flat and dress forms should be curvy. It also stops at the waist where most forms go all the way to the bottom of the butt.
Another disclaimer is that this is not intended as a permanent dressform. The result will be not be a perfect dressform. Studio dressforms have a wooden centre that is then padded out. There’s no way you have the capabilities to make one that will be solid like those, so these will completely soft. Also, because you’re just going to be using polyester stuffing, it will be completely soft which will appear lumpy. It will still work, though.
One more thing before we get started. The following pictures have my child in a white t-shirt and include close ups of her chest. Please don’t make me regret writing this tutorial by misusing these pictures. Also, I hate that I just had to say that.
Onto the tutorial! First, your materials:
You’re going to need a t-shirt, either your size or slightly smaller. Make sure it’s a crew neck, the kind that’s round and close to your neck.
You’ll also need Duct tape. Get the grey kind. First, grey duct tape is cheaper. It also sticks better than coloured duct tape.
Other items you’ll need include both paper and fabric scissors, a sharpie, muslin, a long ruler as well as a smaller straight edge, rubbing alcohol, and a paper towel.
Oh, yeah, you’re going to need another person. Choose someone that you’re very comfortable with. He or she will be touching your butt and breasts.
Another quick note: this method can absolutely be used on a man, but many of the curves of a woman’s body are what make this so difficult. If you’re a guy and make your own body double, send me a picture!!!!!
From now on, this article will be written for the person applying the duct tape. That’s because the person modelling does nothing but stand still, hold the scissors, and cope with being touched inappropriately. (Yay!)
Have your model put on their white t-shirt with the undergarments they normally wear.
Measure around the widest part of their hips/butt and cut a wide strip of muslin to a little more than that length.
Now, wrap a piece of duct tape around your model’s rib cage. For men, this is right under the pectoral muscle. For women, right under the bra band.
At this point, I also make a mark on the tape so that I can find the model’s bra. Bras are expensive, and we don’t want to cut through it during the last step.
Next comes that strip of muslin you cut. See, most t-shirts that fit stop mid-hip, where you’re (probably) going to want it to go all the way to the bottom of your bum. Have your model wrap the piece of muslin around their hips and hold it there.
Tape that piece of cloth onto the shirt so that it’s well below their bottom.
Okay, I did the back first because I thought it would have fewer curvy parts. It wasn’t long before I remembered that my kid’s kinda bootilicious. Regardless, after you read through, you can do it in the order I did or in your own order.
From now on, there will be very few pieces of tape that wrap all the way around the body. That’s because, like I mentioned earlier, duct tape tends to compress the body, and you don’t want that. Instead, make your tape strips start and end at the shirt’s side seam to minimize the compression. This is also why you have your paper scissors. I know a lot of people that are really good at ripping duct tape, but the angles required here make it really difficult. Have your model hold the scissors so that they’re easily accessible.
I started out wrapping her bum. I wrapped strips halfway around her bottom all the way down to the, um…bottom.
Keep cutting strips that are long enough to stretch from side seam to side seam. Go all the way until the bottom of the back collar. That will leave the shoulders without any tape.
Now for the hard part – the chest. Pectorals and breasts are incredibly difficult to account for because they are much more three dimensional than the rest of the body. Now, this section will lay out how to make your duct tape model curve where it needs to curve, so you can use that on any part of your body that’s a little more curvy than the rest. Pregnant ladies and guys with a gut – we’re looking at you here.
Tape from the top of the shoulder diagonally to the centre of your first tape line. This will press the form down in the centre between the breasts and make them stand out better.
Tape from the top of the shoulder down to the highest point of the breast and stop. Do this until the whole shoulder is covered and the line of the breast is defined. This is also the point where my daughter realized that the tape was catching her hair and put it up in a ponytail.
Tape down the sides of the shirt where all your tape ends come together. That will make part two in the process better.
Now the hard part is done! Time to get out your sharpie, ruler, and straight edge. I used the cardboard that was inside the t-shirt package.
Stand your long ruler up and line it up with the centre of your model’s body.
I also feel for the bra band and mark the top. Again, that will come in handy later.
Mark the centre of the shoulder on each side.
Draw three lines across the duct tape. The first will be across the high point of the bust, the second at the natural waist line (the narrowest part of the body), and the third around the highest point of the hip.
With your straight edge, make a line from the centre of the shoulder to the high point of the shoulder blade. Trace that line with your sharpie.
From the bottom of the last line, make your next line to the highest point of the buttock.
You’ll notice that the contour lines aren’t identical on either side of the centre line. That’s because humans aren’t symmetrical. We try to be, and we think of ourselves as such, but we aren’t. The left side of your model is going to be very slightly different from the right.
Time to do the front! Repeat the same process that you did for the back on the front. I realized that there were a lot fewer angles and curves to account for on the front than the back. That actually surprised me quite a bit.
Now you’ve got someone ensconced in duct tape with lines all over him or her. How to get them out? With your scissors!! Cut from the bottom of the fabric up to the bottom of the two bra band lines you’ve marked. There will be two layers at the bottom, so be prepared for that.
This will allow you to slip your hand between the duct tape and the bra band and cut the last section holding it all together without damaging the bra. Your model will then slip off the dress form and go put another top on.
You now have a complete body double made from duct tape. If you tape the back up again, it might stand up on its own. I could get it to stand up facing forward, but not facing backward.
Now, what about the rubbing alcohol and paper towel? Well, cutting duct tape often leaves a residue on the scissors that make the blades stick together.
Use the rubbing alcohol and paper towel to scrub this off before it hardens, like the stickiness on my dressmaker’s shears did.
Next time, we’ll talk about how to make this into a pattern.
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